Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Ever feel like you can’t see the wood for the trees? Like you’re juggling a department store’s worth of plates and you can’t remember which ones are the most valuable?
Yeah, I get that.
It doesn’t matter what job you do, whether you’re employed or self-employed, whether you’re married or not, whether you have kids or not. We all feel like this at some point.
Our lives are so busy that we end up prioritising things that don’t actually matter but seem urgent. We hold so many things in our heads — to-do lists, messages to respond to, things to look up — that we open a browser and can’t even remember what it was we were about to do.
We’re flooded with work and social media so we end up flitting between screens, tabs, chores.
I don’t know about you, but it exhausts me.
Andy Puddicombe, the founder of the meditation company Headspace, tells us we must quiet our minds. That we must note simple actions from breathing to standing or sitting. We must, in a sense, bring it back to the core of physicality.
And I think he’s right. But I also think that we can apply this to our work.
Bring it back to the core
I’m self-employed and I work as a writer. I write content, copywriting, books, magazine articles and blogs. But my work is split. I write content and copy for clients, blogs across my three different websites, social media for myself and others and articles for editors. And I Just. Keep. Adding. Threads.
I’m good at prioritising client work but everything else? This is how it feels.
Picture this: A container has fallen off a ship and has spilled one thousand rubber ducks into the sea. They’re bobbing about in stormy weather and you’re swimming around, trying to collect them all. Except there’s always another wave in the way. Each duck is just out of reach. And every time you grab a couple and reach for another, one gets washed out of your hands.
Phew, that got intense.
When it feels like this, like I’m doing a million things and yet not getting anywhere, I try to remember to bring it back to the core.
The core isn’t the main priority of the day. It’s not the one thing I could do on each thread to be productive. It’s not even the main priority of the week or month.
The core is the one overriding place I want to get to in my work.
It’s the place I’m driving to, even if it will take me years.
Bringing it back to the core is to see that you’ve gotten lost in a service station on your way to your destination. You’ve gotten distracted by all the cafes, the magazine racks and the fruit machines.
You’ve gotten lost in the labyrinth when what you need to do is bust your ass out the emergency exit, get back in your car, hit the gas and make some forward movement towards that one, overriding place.
The overriding place is different for everyone, although they might look similar. And there are always many routes to take. Sat Nav won’t help you here, because your journey will be different to anything remotely planned by another.
And you might reach your overriding place earlier than you thought — hell, maybe the roads were kind to you — that’s fine, you’ll get there and enjoy it. And then you’ll probably choose another.
For me, my overriding place is to be a published novelist.
Once it was to be a published author, and I reached that. I arrived there, turned off the ignition for five minutes (not long enough) and then opened up the map and carried on.
So now it’s to be a published novelist.
But to get there, I spend an awful lot of time in service stations. I spend weeks in villages next to my route. Sometimes I even rent a room in one. Sometimes it’s really comfortable. Sometimes it’s so pretty that I forget the core.
And then the overwhelm happens, I can’t choose which place I want to stop at so I keep stopping at different villages and never finding one that feels right.
And that’s when I remember I need to get back on the road and put my foot down. Because when I linger too long, I get no closer to the core.
Have I stretched this metaphor enough now?
When I feel lost, overwhelmed and like I’m juggling that department store’s worth of plates, I think;
‘Hey, what’s the core?’
‘I want to be a novelist.’
‘Okay, let’s carry on writing that novel then.’
And I am centred again.
I don’t know what your core is, but I bet you have one. Find it. Name it. Whenever you’re feeling like you’re at sea trying to collect rubber ducks, orientate yourself to the core. And move towards it in any way you can.
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Kitiara Pascoe is a freelance ghostwriter, content marketer and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon, UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting and content marketing services at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk